Friday, May 24, 2024

Leland Cheung, a Cambridge city councillor as well as a student at the city’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology, led a meeting Monday to examine layoffs at the institute and Harvard University. (Photo: Liv Rachelle Gold)

A meeting sparked by layoffs at city universities was “a tentative success,” said Leland Cheung, who called the meeting as chairman of the City Council’s university relations committee.

Two Massachusetts Institute of Technology representatives assured Cheung on Monday that they would take my concerns back to the school’s president, Susan Hockfield, and many of those in attendance — including more than 100 people either affected by layoffs at the institute and Harvard University or present to support the protesting labor union, SEIU 615 — got to have their say.

Among the most eloquent was Cheung himself, a student at the institute as well as a city councillor.

“I want to start out saying that I understand that cutting staff is never easy and in the case of MIT, is always done with a heavy heart. I am sure that MIT made every effort to devise an alternative course of action. MIT has a long history of treating its employees fairly, and I do not believe that they came to this decision lightly,” he said of the layoffs, as quoted from an e-mailed statement.

“However, MIT received over $100 million of federal stimulus funding. They were supposed to use this money to create more jobs,” he said. “Unfortunately, to many members of the community it appears MIT chose to invest only in broadening their academic staff, at the expense of service employees.”

Present at the City Hall meeting were Alison Alden, vice president of human resources at the institute, and Sarah Gallop, its co-director of government and community relations, as well as Kevin Feeny, of the school’s Student Worker Alliance; Tom Lucey, director of community relations at Harvard University; Jennifer Doe, an organizer for Jobs For Justice; and the union’s higher education director, Wayne Langley, and an organizer, Matt Gulish.

The meeting was visited by Mayor David Maher and councillors Sam Seidel, Craig Kelley and Marjorie Decker, who drafted the April 5 policy order asking the council to officially oppose the layoffs and encourage the universities making their home in Cambridge to think twice before cutting more employees.

“I do not want any more layoffs,” Cheung said, listing his requests from the meeting. “I want to see a more immediate effort by MIT to find good-paying jobs for those laid off. And I want future decisions of this kind to be more transparent. If there are going to be layoffs, or benefit and salary reductions, workers need to have a seat at the decision table.”

More from Cheung:

“Although having outstanding academic staff is incredibly important, so too are the people who keep the student body safe, maintain the buildings and serve food in the cafeterias. By cutting service staff, MIT is not only hurting those who are laid off, but robbing MIT students of vital services,” Cheung said.

“It is important to remember that we are still in the midst of a recession, and even though Massachusetts is faring much better than many of its counterparts, workers are still not immune to layoffs, pay cuts, and reduced hours and benefits. Unfortunately for those MIT employees let go, now is the worst time to be laid off. The job market is almost non-existent and unemployment and job placement services are stretched thin. Since MIT is the recipient of Cambridge taxpayer support, they are required to have a broad public mission. When workers are laid off at MIT, it affects all Cambridge residents. As a city councillor, it is my obligation to make sure that my constituents’ tax money is being spent wisely. As an MIT Student, I want to make sure my home institution does the right thing.

“That is why I felt it necessary to call this meeting, to allow affected residents to voice their concern. Many have framed the debate as simply another union versus business dispute, but that is not the case. There has been a lot of misinformation circulating in the press and in the blogosphere. Both sides have been unfairly demonized. I envisioned this meeting as a way for both sides to speak freely, free from drama and finger-pointing. It is my hope that this meeting will not only clear the air but also set a precedent for future discussions. I wanted to make sure MIT really understands the social costs to the Cambridge community of its decisions.”

This post was written from a press release.